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Stanley Albert Tysell: 1932-2012

Educator, Musician, Poet, Native American Historian


Stan was a creative and gifted man, a free-spirited dreamer, loving husband, son, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, teacher, friend, musician, singer, poet, writer, and artist. In his early years he drew cartoons, completed a painting with Ray Strong in the 1960s, wrote a film script in 1977 about mountain man Jedidiah Smith, and took it to Hollywood. He was a collector of artifacts, including his treasured array of Native American items, his muskets, guns, knives and handmade buckskin costume (his guise at many mountain man rendezvous).

His love of Native American culture was evident in his trips throughout the United States. He enjoyed many visits to the Southwest, especially, Taos, New Mexico, where he met and was inspired by writer Frank Waters and painter R.C. Gorman. He was a champion for the rights of Native Americans and participated in the Chumash sit-in at the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant in the 1970s. He enjoyed making moccasins for family members and grew a Native American garden.

Stanley Albert Tysell
Click to enlarge photo

Stanley Albert Tysell

His intellectual curiosity was eclectic, and he was a gifted teacher, referred to as the true Renaissance man of the Hope School District, where he taught for 33 years, at Monte Vista and Vieja Valley. He inspired his students with his love of early American history (often dressed in his buckskins or in the costumes of various explorers). He would regale his classes with stories of Native Americans and mountain men and he introduced them to the gift of cowboy and folk music. He wrote and published two poetry books, Medicine Wind and Reciprocal Surrender. His poem “Writing About my Hand” appeared in the 2003 publication of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century.

He was born January 24, 1932 to Rueben and Edna Tysell at St. Francis Hospital in Santa Barbara. He attended Harding Elementary, La Cumbre Junior High, and Santa Barbara High School, graduating in the class of 1949. Stan was a member of the Golden Tornados football team and known for his country music and the Ozark Owl Hoots band. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1953. He majored in animal husbandry and made lifelong friendships with members of the rodeo team. He tried bull riding, bought a Jedlicka’s premier saddle, and worked as a farmhand at San Lucas Ranch. He started the first barn dance in 1950 with his Cow-legions band, returning with two other original members to play at the 2010 Poly Royale Rodeo.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1954 – 1956 near Tokyo, Japan. During that time he embraced one of his great loves, jazz music, listening to musicians and playing piano. As a writer he assumed the nom de plume Tai Seru (Japanese for Tysell). Stan’s interests extended into designing and Japanese house, and photography. He also admired abstract, impressionist, and contemporary artists, began painting, and followed the ‘50s & ‘60s “beat generation” of poets.

Upon returning to Santa Barbara, he continued his education at Santa Barbara Teachers College on the Riviera campus, as well as at Claremont College and UCSB, where he earned his teaching credential and master’s degree in Asian Studies.

His students were very lucky to have a such an inventive, progressive, and spirited man as their teacher. They will remember the hands-on basketry and architectural building projects, and the poetry reading-visualization, and fondly recall the hours he spent with them, during and after school, playing guitar, chess, and sports (particularly football), and “stalking.” (That was a game all the students loved; he would sit in a chair and they would creep up on him.) He was chosen to take part in a Japanese television documentary called Teachers from Around the Word, filmed with his students and local musicians. He received prestigious teaching awards including the 1986 NASA Teacher in Space Project, the 1988 California State Certificate of Recognition for the Impact II Program, and the 1988 National Audubon Society certificate for conservation and quality environment.

In 1980 he took a teaching sabbatical, traveling all over the country to buck-skinners’ rendezvous, museums, powwows, and historical re-enactments. Medicine Wind was written that winter, when he lived a life of solitary contemplation in a cabin near Mono Lake. When he came home to Santa Barbara he focused more on his own backyard. He worked with members of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Chumash Culture Youth Project and Camp Kamulayatset (“A beginning which will always be” in Chumash). He taught Chumash language and stories and was given the name “Hus” (bear in Chumash).

Stan and I married in 1985, sharing a love of family, travel, adventures, nature, music, films, tennis, and golf.

In 1994, he retired from teaching, ending with his favorite fourth grade at Vieja Valley. In 2002, he and I chaperoned that same last class at their San Marcos High School senior prom. In retirement, Stan continued to pursue his lifelong interests and his love of learning. He created his new band, “Alolkoy” (swordfish in Chumash), and performed one-man gigs, singing and playing piano and guitar. He was a member of the bands Swing Easy, Swing West and the History Minstrels. He joined friends in other bands – Crème Brûlé, Peter’s Bluegrass Bash – and played for Singers’ Showcase and cowboy gigs. A generous, supportive fellow-musician to all who knew him, he volunteered piano accompaniment in Kim Collins’ Adult Education jazz classes for many years and was a regular performer at the Old-Time Fiddlers Convention, backing up well-known musicians.

He became an adored grandfather in 1994. That natural vitality is the gift he gave to all his grandchildren. His two oldest granddaughters were the inspiration for the chapter “Peaches and Barleycorn” in his new book Words on Pages (publication pending). Many treasured memories will remain of growing up with Gramps- road trips, art projects, learning piano, Christmas caroling, Kenny Edwards music, building fires, astronomy lessons and stargazing at Camino Cielo, learning to play chess, being entertained with magic tricks he’d learned growing up next door to the world famous Maldo the Magician, and his spending afternoons in their classrooms teaching Chumash culture while dressed in traditional native costume. The boys thought it was really cool when he let them shoot bows and arrows! His oldest grandson (the baseball buff) will someday treasure the framed Ted Williams bat given to his grandfather by his lifelong friend Eddie Mathews in 1949, before Mathews joining major league baseball; as well as his framed poem “Gentleman from Atlanta,” written about Eddie and Hank Aaron during the turbulent years leading up to Aaron’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Playing on words was one of Stan’s fortes, and he invented special pet names for family, friends and students. For anyone who feels they missed out, I’ll loan you one of my 25. Mostly I was Palapala and he was Kanale (Hawaiian).

On May 4, 2011, Stan fell and broke his hip. He also suffered from kidney and heart failure. After five months in the hospital and nursing facilities, he came home. In spite of his failing health and decreased energy, he kept his upbeat spirit. “It’s heaven to be home,” he said. He was still playing the piano, writing poetry, and enjoying visits and music with friends and family almost until the day he died. The Song Tree Concert Series gave a benefit concert in November with the Marley’s Ghost band honoring Stan; it was a packed house. He played his final piano gig New Year’s Eve, 2012 with a group of jazz musicians at Wood Glen Hall. He was able to celebrate his 80th birthday, having one last music blast, with his friends at home. His song “Wyoming Wanderers” was recorded by friends and presented to him the last week of his life. On March 3, 2012, he died peacefully at home in my arms.

Beloved husband of Barbara, Stan was predeceased by his parents and son Danny Tysell. He is survived by daughter Janelle Vogel (Johnny) and grandchildren Carly, Kaitlyn, and Vincent of Santa Barbara; son Scott Miller and grandchildren Aidan, Devlan, and Madeline of Encinitas; son Doug Rawles (Laura) and grandchildren Aubrey and Erin of Pasadena; aunt Florence “Flossy” Unterseher; sister Fay Terrell; brothers-in-law Bill Terrell, Lonnie Voss, Paul Linder, and David Linder; sisters-in-law Nanci Herrera, Olivia Kramer, and Marcia Carter; and all their families.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol Road, S.B., 93105. A private family celebration of life was held at the museum on May 21.

There was no one quite like Stan. He was a force of life and belonged to everyone.

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